MSI N260GTX OC V3 Review

Author: Kevin Spiess
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, July 8th, 2009
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/msin260gtx/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

The PC gaming gods have been in a benevolent mood lately. They have recently bestowed on us Street Fighter IV, Arma II, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Ghostbusters, Prototype -- and not to mention, the Fallout 3 mods are still coming on strong, and Batman lurks right around the corner. And if there is just only one thing that the PC gaming gods ask for in return, it is a good gaming video card to keep these games running smoothly.

In an effort to to help you appease the gods, today we will be looking at a new video card. This time around it is a GTX 260, from MSI.

Fortunately it is not merely another GTX 260. MSI has put some elbow grease into delivering a enhanced GTX 260 -- a little something they like to call the N260GTX OC V3 T2D896. This is not MSI's first N260GTX however -- don't be confused with earlier stock that still may be on store shelves, which is based much more closely on the reference design, and has a stock cooler. Today's N260GTX has a pretty mean cooler on it, a trick or two up its sleeves, and certainly more interesting to talk about.

The GTX 260 cards are NVIDIA's first line of defense, it seems, on the video card shelves. Ever since the early boost NVIDIA gave the GTX 260, when they unlocked some more of the GPU, giving it 216 shaders instead of the earlier 192, the GTX 260 has been in the battle against ATI's HD 4870, and to a much lesser extent, the HD 4890. There is never a clear winner in these struggles -- it always comes down to the card themselves. This extra-fierce competition has lead to some remarkable video card designs this generation of cards, with all companies pushing their limits to try to deliver eye-catching products.

MSI looks like they really put some extra hours in, to come up with today's N260GTX. So let's put on our favorite monocle and check it out.

Impressions

Over the last few years, Neoseeker has reviewed a number of MSI video cards. Generally MSI seems to be a bit more adventurous in their cooler designs, and today's N260GTX is certainly no exception.

Right off the bat you'll notice that it is a two fan model -- something which is fairly rare for a GTX 260. MSI calls it the "Twin Frozr." The next thing you may notice is that the N260GTX does not have any plastic -- no plastic shroud protecting the heatsink; no plastic coverings at all, actually. This is even more uncommon than having two fans.

The gray metal heatsink covering is not directly attached to the heatsink beneath it, so it functions more as a shield from dust than a cooling mechanism. Nonetheless, no doubt being metal rather than plastic will help the cover slough off some of the ambient heat generated by the video card. One downside for this cooler though: heats going to be going all over your case, instead out of out the bracket, so you'll certainly benefit from using a chassis with a solid side-fan.

Underneath the metal shroud, and the pair of fans, we have a very capable looking cooler. The MSI N260GTX is actually somewhat heavy from the extensive quantity of metal used -- the lengths of the aluminum fins run almost the whole length of the video card. A grand total of five heat pipes spread the heat out along the the fins, and top of the heatsink. Overall this is a very capable looking cooler, and it does not make an unreasonable amount of noise either. 

For even further cooling measures, MSI has placed large metal heatsinks on the memory, and on the voltage regulators. All this bodes well for overclocking, so it should be interesting to see what it can do when the clocks get pushed.

Reference design versus MSI handiwork.

Specifications

The GTX 260 has been out for about a year now, so you are probably fairly familiar with it by now, but in any case, let's briefly go over some of its specs.

Powering this GTX 260 is the GT200b: a 55nm shrink of the earlier GT200 GPU, with 216 shader cores. You'll have a total of 32 ROPS and 80 texture units to do your bidding if you have a GT200b at your disposal. The MSI N260GTX OC has a 448-bit memory interface, which is why the total memory on the video card is the uncommon and uneven amount of 896MB of GDDR3. 

Like NVIDIA cards of this current generation, the GTX 260 supports DirectX 10.0, OpenGL 2.1, 3-way SLI, CUDA (support for some specialized, parallel-computing applications), PhysX (for proprietary in-game physics in a few games), and has the PureVideo engine which improves HD video playback.

 

 

GTX 275

GTX 260 (216SP)

GTX 285

 GTX 295

HD 4850

HD 4870
 HD 4890 HD 4870 X2 MSI N260GTX OC

Processing Cores

240

216

240

480*

800

800 800 1600* 216

Core Clock

633

576

648

576

625

750 850 750 655

Shader Clock

1404

1240

1476

1242

625

750 850 750 1408

Memory Clock (effective) 

2268

1998 2484

1998

1986

3600 3900 3600 2100

Memory Interface

448 bit

448 bit

512 bit

896 bit*

256 bit

256 BIT 256 bit 512 bit*  448 bit

Memory Type

896MB GDDR3

896MB GDDR3

1024MB GDDR3

1792MB GDDR3*

512MB GDDR3

512MB
GDDR5
512MB GDDR5 2048MB GDDR5* 896MB GDDR3

Fabrication Process

55nm

55nm

55nm 55nm

55nm

55nm 55nm 55nm 55nm

* denotes cumulative effective efforts coming from 2 GPU's (i.e GTX 295: two GPUs with 240 cores equal 480)

We have to say, so far we like what we look. Now let's see if N260GTX can impress in the gaming benchmarks.

Box and bundle

The MSI N260GTX OC comes in a green box with a mighty, armored, prematurely balding orc dominating the left hand side. His eyes are on fire, which is apparently the hottest trend going today for people of the orcish persuasion.

The back of the box is written predominantly in English, but has brief bullet points written in 26 other languages. 

The bundle is complete, including a DVI-HDMI adapter, a DVI-VGA adapter, a SPDIF audio cable, a quick user guide, composite video cables, RCA-audio cable, and some good MSI-made software like StarOSD, which can be used to tweak your overclocking and appearance settings for games, and MSI's Live Update software, which lets you know when new drivers come out.

However one conspicuously absent part in this bundle is a molex-to-PCIE power adapater. Probably some may miss this part, as many power supplies only have one PCIE power cable by default, and this video requires two six pin PCIE power connectors.

Overclocking

This cooler looked pretty mean so we started our overclocking adventures off with an aggressive start. 

Using RivaTuner to keep the fans running at 100%, we settled upon the final stable overclock of 772 / 1615 / 1207 for the core, shader, and memory clock (MHz). This is over the already-overclocked factory defaults for the card of 655 / 1408 / 1050. This is a great overclock -- actually our highest overclock yet for a GTX 260 card, for the core and shader clocks (only the Asus EN260GTX Matrix beat this card's memory overclock.)

Even at these crazy overclocks, it seems the limiting factor was more the chips themselves than the cooling involved, as the temperatures where reasonable even when fully maxed out.

We don't recommend running all the time at our max overclock found of 772 / 1615 / 1207, but you should have no problem running things around the very healthy level of 720 / 1560 / 1125, or thereabouts, while keeping the fan on auto power mode.

 

Hardware

Video cards used in the benchmarks include, from roughly most powerful and expensive to less powerful and less expensive: the BFG GTX 285, the Asus ENGTX 275, a NVIDIA GTX 280, Leadtek GTX 260 Extreme+, PowerColor Plus HD 4890, VisionTek HD 4870, ATI HD 4830.

 

Software

For the drivers, all the ATI cards used the Catalyst 9.6 drivers, and all the Nvidia cards used Forceware 186.18 drivers.

Here is our current line-up of benchmarking programs:

3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage: These popular synthetic benchmarking programs were used at a resolution of 1280x1024. Vantage was run in 'Performance' mode, and only the two GPU tests were used.

Bioshock: For this benchmark, all of the Detail settings were set to 'High'. All of the graphic option switches were set to 'On', with the exception of the following three settings: Vsync, Windowed mode, and Force Global Lighting. We used FRAPS to measure frame rate performance. The FRAPS run was 138 seconds, triggered from pulling the switch in the sub at game's beginning. The sub's dive involves many big models moving around, which should strain the GPUs and be a good measure of the game's engine.

Crysis: Warhead: Games don't get much more demanding than Crysis. We used the 'Gamer' pre-set level of details, which is the middle level setting out of 5 options. We ran the benchmark on the 'avalanche' map, using the FrameBuffer Crysis benchmarking tool, version 0.29, in DX10 mode.

Devil May Cry 4: This Capcom action game runs well on most systems; but at 'Super High' detail settings, even the fastest systems get taxed. This is built-in benchmark.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars: We use this id FPS benchmark to test out higher resolutions. We used the highest possible detail settings. We tested the resolutions at 4x AA as well as at 8x AA. 16x AF was also used.  

Far Cry 2: This open-world FPS is great looking game that really puts the strain on a gaming rig. We used the built-in benchmarking tool, and the overall 'Very High' quality setting was used.

Furmark: This intensive, synthetic benchmark models a ring of fur. We benched at 1680x1050.

Street Fighter IV: You have probably heard of this famous fighting game. It has 3D graphics, but generally does not require much GPU horsepower to run well. We used Capcom's stand-alone PC benchmarking tool for our tests, and ran everything at its highest possible settings, using 4xAA, and the 'Watercolor' setting.

Unreal Tournament 3: We tested the game using a fly-through of the vehicle capture-the-flag map 'Suspense.'ShangriLa (map) running for 90 seconds. Details were set to 'High', and a AF setting of 16x was used.

World In Conflict: We used the built-in benchmark of the demo version of this game. We ran the benchmark in DX9 rendering mode, with a 'High' level of quality. For the AA testing, we used a setting of 4x, and a setting of 16x for AF.

If you would like any further information about our benchmark settings, feel free to ask us in the forums.

Two things seem to be indicated from these charts: first, the MSI N260GTX OC V3's overclock puts the slight overclock on the Leadtek GTX 260 Extreme+ to shame; and second, the N260GTX OC is going to be more up against the HD 4890 than it will be the HD 4870.

ATI cards always do much better in Furmark than NVIDIA cards -- so the interesting thing here is the gulf between the N260GTX's performance, and the performance of the GTX 275 and GTX 285. Wonder if that will hold true in the games?

The MSI N260GTX OC V3 gets off to a very strong start here, putting some solid distance ahead of the HD 4870 and HD 4890, and not even getting all that far away from the GTX 275.

Not sure why, but the BFG GTX 285 nose-dived on the highest resolution here in Crysis: Warhead, which puts the N260GTX in a better light. However the PowerColor Plus! HD 4890 finally shows its presence and comes in above of the MSI OC'ed card.

It certainly appears that a standard-clocked HD 4870 is no match for the MSI N260GTX OC. That solid OC goes a long way as the MSI card puts in more frames than the more mildly overclocked, PowerColor HD 4890 (when AA is off).

While the BFG GTX 285 is in a class of it's own here, the Asus ENGTX 275, NVIDIA GTX 280, PowerColor HD 4890 and our N260GTX OC V3 all put in remarkably similar performances here.

The HD 4870 meanwhile just can't keep up (odd as they may seem), and the LeadTek GTX 260 Extreme+ just doesn't have the mojo either.

Again the PowerColor HD 4890 and MSI GTX 260 wrestle here. Of course the big catch is though, that the MSI N260GTX OC V3 is a good deal less expensive.

Another great performance: the MSI N260TGX OC V3 even beats out the older GTX 280, which has more raw GPU horsepower.

 

Here the MSI N260GTX OC V3 performs closer to the GTX 275 than the HD 4890 -- not to spoil the ending of this review, but this MSI design is doing great.

Temperature

To measure core GPU temperature, we used the hardware monitoring program in RivaTuner 2.24. The idle temperature was taken after leaving nothing running, on Vista's desktop, for a minute. The load temperature was taken after a 100,000ms run of Furmark at 1680x1050 with no AA.

When it comes to keeping cool, this MSI N260GTX OC knows its stuff. 

The GT200b GPU here benefits from having 216 cores here in a GTX 260, instead of the potential full 240 cores found in the higher-end cards, such as the GTX 285. Having the laser neutered cools helps it run a bit cooler. Add this fact to the excellent Twin Frozr MSI cooler, and you have yourself a card that is able to keep cool when things get hot.

Power Usage

To measure power usage, we used a Kill A Watt P4400 power meter. Note that the above numbers represent the power drain for the entire benchmarking system, not just the video cards themselves. For the 'idle' readings we measured the power drain from the desktop, with no applications running; for the 'load' situation, we took the sustained peak power drain readings at the end of 200,000ms run of Furmark at the maximum resolution.

Also impressive in the power usage benchmark, the MSI N260GTX OC is doing well. Such a low idle is great, and the load power drain is a full 38W below the HD 4870. Good stuff.

Conclusion

The N260GTX OC V3 is a clear-cut, straight-forward big win for MSI. It is uncommon to see a product excel across the board, as Mr. Twin Frozr today has.  

Quite simply, in every important category, the MSI N260GTX OC V3 excelled. The great cooler kept things quite cool, and didn't make much noise. The power usage was very reasonable for the high-end performance. The overclocking threshold was the best we've seen, for core and shader overclocking...and in the most important aspect of a video card's measure (in this reviewer's humble opinion) -- in gaming performance -- the MSI's N260GTX substantial overclock was enough to reliably fly by the HD 4870 in our line-up, and was enough to out-perform the more expensive HD 4890 sometimes, and even once or twice, come within fractions of performing as well as the next-level up, GTX 275 class card. 

What really is the icing on the cake is the attractive price-point the MSI N260GTX OC V3 is currently selling for. A quick check on three online e-tailers shows that this beauty is selling for less than most HD 4890's (which it outperforms), and even less than some more average-performing GTX 260 video cards. All this adds up to a winning package.

While the N260GTX OC V3 may not stand-out if you compare it to MSI's own big brother model, the N260GTX OC Lightning Black Edition model, that comes with more bells and whistles, we would imagine, judging from the specs, the performance is quite similar, yet the OC V3 sells for about $80 less -- and $80 is a huge amount when you are considering a sub $200 video card. 

If there was one niggle in the package, perhaps it would have been nice to see a PCI-E-molex power adapter in the bundle, which is fairly standard for cards in this class. But this is hardly a big enough hang-up to tarnish the product.

For coming in tops in practically every category of our testing, the MSI N260GTX OC V3 is a surprise stand-out, remarkable and worthy of consideration for anyone looking for a card within $100 to $200 USD. 

One quick final note: MSI has at least 5 models of GTX 260 for sale right now -- it can be a bit hard telling which one is what. So if you are looking for this particular model, make sure it is a N260GTX-T2D896 OC V3, recognizable with the great Twin Frozr cooler on it. 

 

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